In 2011 someone asked The New York Times film critic Manohla Dargis whether she thought Keanu Reeves was a “good bad actor” or a “bad good actor”, and her response pretty much summed up what many of us have been thinking about the erstwhile king of “whoa” over the years. “Who cares?” replied Dargis. “He’s Keanu Reeves, dude, and an excellent movie star, blessed with a beautiful blank quality that lends itself to our projections and helps explain why he’s been a go-to savior [in movies].”
In other words, don’t ask why or how, just, you know, embrace Keanu.
Nowhere is Keanu on finer display than in last year’s indie action-thriller John Wick. Fast, dark and totally out of control, Wick is an explosive clarion call for a return to the pre-CGI age of hands-on action movies that George Miller’s game-changing Mad Max: Fury Road is currently mining for box office gold. And all I know is that if down-and-dirty practical effects shot with real stuntmen are gonna be the next big trend in action movies, sign me up.
Proving that Liam Neeson isn’t the only one who can play a stoic, retired badass pushed back into the game to right a wrong, Reeves plays a retired killer for hire living the good life in a fancy house with his lovely wife. But when his wife – ably played by fetching movie wife du jour, Bridget Moynahan – dies suddenly after a brief illness, Reeves is plunged into the kind of deep, soulful, onscreen mourning that he has cornered the market on these days (check out the “Sad Keanu” meme for further proof of its power). And then, in his darkest hour, Reeves receives a final posthumous gift from his wife in the form of a lovable Beagle puppy. I know that sounds corny, but, trust me, you’ll never root more for the healing power of puppies than you will here. Somebody give that dog an Oscar already.
Then, just when things are finally looking up, Reeves crosses path with some surly Russian mafia types whose leader insists on buying his vintage ’69 Mustang. When Reeves brushes the thugs off with a cutting remark (in perfect Russian) the thugs follow him home, beat the hell out of him and force him to watch as they kill his beloved dog. Yep, they actually kill the dude’s puppy and steal his car. It’s brutal.
But the fury and hellfire it unleashes in Reeves as he transforms from grieving husband to steely-eyed assassin hungry for vengeance is downright thrilling. And the carnage that ensues is so insane and breathtakingly-original in tone and execution that you might just find yourself reaching for your overhead oxygen mask to calm yourself. Seriously, it’s pretty much killer, non-stop action from start to finish. Incredible.
Directed by first-time helmers Chad Stahelski and an uncredited David Leitch – who both worked as stuntmen with Reeves on The Matrix Trilogy – Wick also features one of the best supporting casts in recent action movie history. Playing what could be stock, B-movie character “types” in lesser hands, Willem Dafoe, John Leguizamo, Ian McShane, Adrianne Palicki and Michael Nyqvist bring a dramatic heft to their characters that adds to Wick’s awesomeness factor immeasurably.
Another key factor that sets Wick apart from the pack is screenwriter Derek Kolstad’s savvy “world-building.” Incorporating the best elements of hard-boiled neo-noir, Hong Kong action flicks and pulpy, Hollywood gangster epics, Kolstad’s original screenplay sets Wick’s action in a cool, vividly-realized underworld with it’s own distinct rules, urban legends and codes of honor. And the pay-off, especially at the film’s climax, is a doozy.
Criminally under-seen in theaters, John Wick is now playing on select Virgin Atlantic and Emirates flights worldwide and is available for download at iTunes and Amazon Instant Video. So, get your Keanu on today.